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The sweet but not too sweet 12.5% ABV lychee soju is a delicious accompaniment to a meal any time of day. Photo by DUKE GREENHILL.

The oily black yawn of a superheated frying pan. The alchemical mixing of mysterious ingredients. The chef whispering mellifluous secrets, scoring the butchering of an over-plump chicken a la Lisa Bonet in Angel Heart — all these images flooded my mind the moment I sank my cuspids into bb.q Chicken TCU’s original fried chicken. It’s plain fried chicken that simply may be the best I’ve had anywhere in town.

The new bb.q Chicken TCU at the corner of Berry and University offers some of the best plain fried chicken in town.
Photo by DUKE GREENHILL.

Of course, neither an incanting chef nor Lisa Bonet was actually present in the kitchen of 2880 West Berry St. at the corner of University Drive — at least not on the scorching Sunday afternoon when my friend Stephanie and I lunched at bb.q TCU. In fact, despite a crowd that would please any owner a mere week into a soft opening, the place was quiet. In the efficiently appointed, too-dark L-shape of the bar-plus-high-tops-and-dining-room space, there wasn’t a single nearby conversation on which to eavesdrop. My grandmother used to say a cook’s favorite sound is silence. I think there’s something to that.

We settled in at one of the high-tops near the bar and took care of the most important business first: one bottle of Lychee Soju, two glasses. After taking a moment to wash the heat off our tongues with the refreshingly sweet and viscous Korean sipping vodka (a lunch-appropriate 12.5% ABV), I asked the manager to bring us a sampling of appetizers, entrees, and sides. He explained only an abbreviated menu is available during the soft opening, so we asked to be surprised by two appetizers and three entrees — owner’s choice.

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The complex aroma of the rosé ddedok bokki hit the table before the dish did. We wide-eyed golden cream sauce, chewy rice cylinders, cabbage, and cross sections of fish cake so thin I’m certain Paul Sorvino sliced them prison-side with a razor blade. We inhaled the spice-laden steam, thick with dashima, chile, onion, and soy. We took a bite.

As is the case with any artform, despite the best intentions of the artist, a work can sometimes be so (overly) complex as to render it one-note. This was the case here, much creamier and cheesier than the ddedok bokki of traditional Korean cuisine. The umami, though — the savory mouthfeel of the concoction — left us eager for the final appetizer.

It was the kimchi fried rice. Gorgeous liver-colored kimchi entrenched between mounds of fragrant rice stared back at us through the single yellow eye of a perfectly fried egg. Again, however, the disparate notes of season and spice never quite coalesced into an inspiring wall of taste. Yet the precision and perfection of each and every fried ingredient across both appetizers were guiding me toward a theory, a theory I was excited to test further as the fried chicken entrees — one honey-garlic (bb.q’s bestseller), one secret sauce (Korea’s bestseller), and one original — made their way out.

My theory posited that bb.q was at its best when the bullseye was high-quality simple ingredients simply fried. Into the chicken entrees, Stephanie and I synchronized our first bites, and my theory proved true.

At first, neither she nor I chewed. Instead, we rolled the victuals between tongue and soft palate, savoring the pleasure, pleasure that came ultimately not from the painted-on sauces — garlic, secret, or otherwise — but from the canvas: the chicken itself.

The crispy, latently piquant and batter-fried skin seemed to want to protect the superbly succulent meat within. Somehow — whether bitten or pulled, dark meat or light — dermis and flesh came off bone together in a perfectly proportioned way. In contrasting texture, distribution, and sensation, the experience of the chicken was not unlike that of an exquisite crème brûlée.

Herein lies bb.q’s only problem, if it is a problem at all. I understand the fun of hot chicken. I get the event that Korean hot chicken manifests into place. But most hot chicken, around here anyway, is all paint and no canvas — the fowl plays second chair to the jus. When Sarah Chang agrees to bow the violin for you, you don’t surround her with accompaniment. You don’t ask her to string against a karaoke track. You just let her play. Solo.

Put another way, when the to-go boxes arrived and the check was paid, although Stephanie and I gladly took a little of everything home with us so our families could share in the fun, it was the plain, original fried chicken over which we fought.

 

bb.q Chicken TCU
2880 W Berry St, Fort Worth
682-255-5503
11am-10pm daily

 

bb.q Chicken
Rosé ddedok bokki w/cheese $15
Kimchi fried rice $12
Honey-garlic fried chicken $15-27
Secret sauce fried chicken $15-27
Original (plain) fried chicken $14-26
Lychee soju $13

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